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5 Tips for Effective Communication When You Do Business in China

If you want to do business in China, then you’re going to have to communicate with your business associates. If you’re lucky they might speak English, so you won’t have to worry about the language barrier. If they only speak Chinese, then you’ll need the help of an interpreter.

But, what do you do if you want to negotiate a contract and you know you’ve got competition from other companies? You can get ahead of the competition by learning about Chinese business practice and culture. That way you can help your Chinese associates to feel relaxed and comfortable while talking business.

Culture Differences

The first thing you should know is that the Chinese like to get to know you before they will do business. This means if you go over to China you might be expected to visit their home and have dinner with the family. You’ll also be invited out for meals and drinks. It may take some time to build up a relationship, so don’t be pushy about arranging business, the Chinese like to do things slowly.

If you are invited for dinner at the home of a Chinese associate it is polite to bring a gift. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but it should be nicely wrapped. It is traditional for the Chinese to refuse the gift at first but offer it with both hands and a big smile.


Learn basic Chinese greetings. Nobody will expect you to speak Chinese but knowing how to greet people will be noticed and appreciated.

If you have business cards make sure they are printed in English and Chinese. Watch the colours you use on the card. The Chinese are superstitious people and colours are lucky or unlucky. For example a card printed in red and gold would be acceptable, while green, white and black should be avoided.

When you hand over a card use both hands and make sure that it’s the Chinese side that can be seen first.


When you’re in a meeting always speak to the person in charge first. The Chinese have a strict system of hierarchy. Don’t ever be late for meeting either. The Chinese take punctuality very seriously and they think being late lacks respect.

When you’re speaking be mindful of cultural differences. For example if you’re used to speaking your mind and being blunt, this could be a mistake. While it’s fine if you’re doing business in Germany, it may be considered rude in China. You may need to adapt your tone and soften your approach. Instead of saying “ no, I don’t agree,” try saying, “sorry, could you explain that again, I’m not sure I understand.” That way you won’t be labelled as someone who wants to create conflict.

Know Your Stuff

Before you begin any negotiations in China, make sure you know about the export process. organise a shipping company to help you. That way when an offer is on the table you know exactly what it entails and what the figures mean for your profit margins.


Don’t make the mistake of getting important documents translated by a non-professional, or by using a machine translation tool. Have all your agreements and contracts professionally translated so that there are no misunderstandings.


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